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“Cows Are Terrible to Work With”: DP Ruben Impens on The Eight Mountains

Two men work on a house's roof with hammers with the mountains of the Swiss Alps in the background.Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi in The Eight Mountains.

The winner of the Jury Prize at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch’s The Eight Mountains introduces us to Pietro (Lupo Barbiero) as a young boy visiting the small mountain village of Grana with his mother. During this trip, he meets Bruno (Cristiano Sassella), a herder who also happens to be 11-years-old. Many years later, Pietro’s father passes away, leaving him a long-neglected plot of land in Grana. Upon returning to the Alpine town, he reunites with Bruno, who aids him in rebuilding a house on his newly-inherited land, strengthening a friendship that had previously fizzled.

Ruben Impens, the film’s cinematographer, discusses his longtime collaboration with van Groeningen, choosing a 1:33 frame and the complications inherent to working with cattle. 

See all responses to our annual Sundance cinematographer interviews here

Filmmaker: How and why did you wind up being the cinematographer of your film? What were the factors and attributes that led to your being hired for this job?

Impens: I have a long history with the director [Felix van Groeningen], we did seven movies together and somehow he keeps asking me…

Filmmaker: What were your artistic goals on this film, and how did you realize them? How did you want your cinematography to enhance the film’s storytelling and treatment of its characters?

Impens: Most of the film is exteriors in the mountains, so the difficulty was to find the right way to portray these mountains/nature in relation with the characters. We decided to frame for 1:33 and not widescreen. It was more intimate and helped to de-frame in height. 

Filmmaker: Were there any specific influences on your cinematography, whether they be other films, or visual art, or photography, or something else?

Impens: Into the Wild

Filmmaker: What were the biggest challenges posed by production to those goals?

Impens: Logistics… to get to the locations and building a house at 2600m (no roads up there). The weather changes every two hours in the Alps.

Filmmaker: What camera did you shoot on? Why did you choose the camera that you did? What lenses did you use?

Impens: ALEXA Mini LF + Zeiss Supreme Prime [lenses].

Filmmaker: Describe your approach to lighting.

Impens: Less is more.

Filmmaker: What was the most difficult scene to realize and why? And how did you do it?

Impens: Cows are terrible to work with.

Filmmaker: Finally, describe the finishing of the film. How much of your look was “baked in” versus realized in the DI?

Impens: We had a general LUT for the movie but of course in post we tuned it 


Film Title: The Eight Mountains 

Camera: Alexa mini LF + Zeiss supreme and Angenieux FF zoom 

Lighting: The sun and very minimal kit. 

Color Grading: Resolve 

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